Head-Butting Elk Featured in Viral Video Put Down

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The young elk featured in a viral video playfully head-butting an Asheville photographer has been put to death.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported the elk was euthanized Friday after the Oct. 20 YouTube video, which was viewed more than one million times and featured on national news shows.

The video shows the elk head-butting James York, who was sitting along a trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park taking photographs. York was not injured.

Smokies spokeswoman Dana Soehn said the decision to put the elk to death was a first for the park. Park officials said the elk was a problem before approaching the photographer.

Soehn said the elk had lost its fear of humans after being fed by visitors. She said the animal had demonstrated dangerous behavior that could result in human injury or death.

York, the photographer in the viral video, said he is “truly saddened” that the elk was put to death.

“I was really looking forward to watching him grow up,” he said. “I felt like I bonded with him. I am crushed that he’s gone. I was looking forward to his rack getting bigger and maturing into a bull.”

Read more: The Asheville Citizen-Times


  • laura

    Looks like to me he asked to be taughted by this animal. There were several opportunities he could have walked away. The elk seemed to hate the hat and the camera lol.

  • Lisa Gaylor

    If you read the full story, he was fed by humans before approching the photographer. It clearly states that the elk was a problem before this video. The people to blame for this are the ones who fed him and clearly broke the law!

    • Holly

      The laws are put in place for a reason. But this is what happens when humans come in and take over the land of these creatures. They don’t know better. He was a baby and wanted to play. If humans kept their distance maybe he would still be alive.

    • Michelle

      the people to blame are the murderers who killed him…they did not “put him down” they KILLED him…they could have found a sanctuary or zoo but chose death instead.

    • Monica

      The elk wasn’t a “problem.” The elk was friendly. That shouldn’t be a death sentence. Humanity is so…inhumane.

      • Sue

        I agree! The elk was friendly, playful and innocent. He was curious what was going on. He should have NEVER been killed! He trusted humans. That was his only mistake!

  • kyshirl

    Why couldn’t the Elk be relocated? KY has big herds that pose no threat to humans.
    I think person(s) feeding wildlife should also be relocated OUT of Cades Cove forever

    • Larry

      What is funny/ironic to me…folks wondering why could this elk not be relocated…because a “story” makes the elk personal to us, and we then care. Meanwhile…the Canadian Grey Wolf (an invasive species to Idaho) ventured into Idaho, averaging 150lbs each…and Idaho went from 16,000 elk to less than 9,000….

      Turns out the Canadian Grey finds sport…fun, in just killing…not killing just for food. Of course, when the state took steps to control the numbers of wolves, folks went off on that. Imagine if this elk were relocated to Idaho, and video showed it taken down back a pack of wolves. We can’t use heartstrings istilled from years of Marty Stouffers “Wild America” (though an amazing program) and Disney’s “Bambiology” to determine the welfare of wildlife. Science, research, management on real data…this is what is needed.

      • Carol in Idaho

        Larry, I actually live in Idaho. I want the number of wolves reduced. I am in favor of the wolf hunts. There has been a reduction in the number of elk due to wolves. We are not hunters. We prefer to observe the elk from our deck. Had he been relocated to Idaho, his chances of survival would be better here than they were where he came from. People in Idaho are given opportunities to observe elk in a safe way. You can take sleigh rides near their habitat. If we have a severe winter and the elk don’t have enough food, volunteers can keep food troughs filled for the elk. It is a shame they killed the young elk. People don’t know the proper distance to keep from the wildlife.

      • Michelle

        Larry what is your point? If we left it up to nature the elk would still be alive and people should probably not invade their land and we won’t have to worry about them with humans! Humans have always been the problem!

  • clayton


    • Ranger


      You sir, are a prime example of a citizen that has been brainwashed by society to believe what you have been told. The only reason these animals fear humans, are because humans themselves. Animals cannot live alongside humans anymore because of the folklore and fear that humans themselves have falsely created. Now citizens allow society to tell them what is right and wrong and create panic in situations like this, all based off of myths themselves…. Does this situation look dangerous to you? It looks as if York had his surroundings well understood, and was very knowledgeable about how he should react. And if more people took the time to understand how to react around certain animals instead of letting society tell them that a friendly animal is dangerous, then we would have less of an issue here, and probably no death involved at all.

      The fact that you have let society think for you, saddens me. Wild animals only become unruly pests because man does not no how to react positively or rightfully… For example, look at this situation.. No one was hurt, or killed for that matter, and yet society panicked and parks killed a curious elk. They simply could have let it be, put a radio collar on it, and watched the behaviour of the animal as it grew. If there were issues of potential danger in the future, its as simple as trying to put fear back into the animal by firing warning shots, or using bangers. And if all else fails, relocate is another option.

      The only ‘unfairness’ here is the fact that an innocent animal got killed for being itself as a result of mans ignorance and knowledge-less inconsideration (I am not talking about the photographer either)… And also because their motivation for killing the animal was lead by a pack of assumptions when nothing negative even happened, and in most situations.. never does.

      Unfortunately society has a one track mind based on money, so they take the simplest route out, and then pump out excuses to the public as to why it was necessary. Instead of trying to work with nature, we work against it to ease our workload and benefit only us. Instead of observing a situation and coming up with rational solutions to try and work with the nature, we kill things. This is the main reason why I refused to work for most parks or the Ministry of Natural Resources after I graduated from University. Because they sit in the office instead of face to face with nature, and obey protocol. They do what they are told no matter what is right…. Technically, these people don’t work for wildlife or work to benefit wildlife at all.

      I was not interested in becoming a part of that closed-minded clan, I went after what I wanted and did not let someone else think or decide what a perceived idea of the truth was, for me… I am now a guide in the rocky mountains as well as work part time at a wolf sanctuary where I get face to face with wolves and am in no danger because I have not let society tell me I am.

      Perhaps if more money was spent teaching people how to react around wildlife and necessary precautions to take/make.. rather than on war, humans and nature could live alongside each other as they did before society was brainwashed many years ago.

      Don’t look to the media for accurate sources of information, because you will only find the truth to an adequate degree.

      • Ken Koenig

        Agree with you 100%. If the animal really wanted to hurt York, he would have. And York could have gotten up and walked away at anytime.

        Humans seem to think that all other creatures should fear them and kill those that do not. Wild animals do what wild animals do period. If a human chooses to interact with them on their turf and terms, then any consequences of that interaction should be accepted. Those that do not know how to interact with said animals, should not- they should just stay home in the safety of their abode.

        I really think humans are the dumbest animals on this planet, certainly the most arrogant.

      • Nate

        Thank you ranger its about time someone has common sense and the ability to think for themselves. Peoples mentality is the problem with this world the animal never deserved that. its the equivalent of gassing overweight people just because they take up too much space. sure they might be out of the way but it doesnt make it right or justify such shitty actions

      • Laurette Giardino

        Agree 100% – when ppl call animals stupid I believe we are referring to ourselves- for we continuely show how stupid we are around wildlife and domestic animals and create lies, myths and irrational behavior to animals to justify our own ignorant behavior and understanding of them. This poor young elk had to die from ignorance and shortsightness – instead of finding a safe alternative it is easier to kill than use our mind. Humans are the only animal on this planet that enjoys killing for fun not for survival or to protect ourselves but to hang a head on a wall or brag about how we used a high powerful weapon to bring down an animal that is defenseless against these weapons. When deer, elk, wolves, and other game animal start carrying semi auto rifles and shooting humans than it will be a even playing field.
        A country is judged by how it treats its animals (paraphrase ghandi)

      • Bill Bruck

        Question for you sir. My initial impression was that the photographer did nothing wrong and behaved exactly as he should have. If he had gotten up and run away, would that elk be likely to pursue him? I have been taught my whole life to be calm and still when being approached by any animal. This has saved my butt more than once with stray dogs. I was harassed by one that ran towards me and exhibited every sign of being mean and aggressive. I stood perfectly still and controlled my breathing to help calm my fear. The dog sniffed me numerous times and, at one point, snarled and growled. I thought I was going to get torn apart as it was a dog that weighed at least 75 pounds. And it was a pit bull mix. (They are so misunderstood.) But I stayed still and he eventually became disinterested and just walked away. The next day, a neighborhood kid was approached by the same dog. He ran like crazy. I believe that action triggered the dogs prey instinct. He chased that kid down and tore him to pieces. He almost bled to death but did pull through. This reinforced what I had been taught. Was I taught correctly or did I just get lucky? Thank you for your most informative post. I hope all of the people on here read it. Especially the nitwits that blamed the photographer. I just don’t see him as doing anything wrong.

      • Ranger

        @ Bill Bruck

        Yes Bill Bruck, you were informed correctly. Now your reaction will be animal dependant, but for the most part, and most of them.. you hold your ground. Choosing to run from a canine that is in pursuit of you practically guarantee’s it will want to take you down because it is partially wired into it’s mind to chase anything running because it mimics prey (with some exceptions of different bloodlines that may have been programmed to attack and protect) Of course the mindset and reaction of each individual dog will/can vary from one to the other. But holding your ground is the best thing you can do, specifically curling up into a ball with your ligaments tucked underneath you. York did take the right maneuvers here, and if he had decided try to walk or run away at any givin’ time without timing it correctly, their would have been a probable chance that the Elk would have followed and possibly been intrigued depending on its timidness. York did nothing wrong here and appeared to be well informed and knowledged on this situation, as we should all be on this topic.

  • Tonya M Cook


  • Dave

    I find it strange the video did not show anything of York being at a safe & respectful distance, had he been why did he not move before the elk got that close. He was not a trail but on the side of the road where anyone in their vehicle could have approached and the elk would have probably backed off ( as seen later in the video). Only once did York try to fend off the elk, the rest of the time he was concerned that his hat was on his head. He also had at least two opportunities to get out when the elk had turned away, yet he chose to stay – why apparently his 15 seconds of fame were not up. Unfortunately they were up for the elk.

  • Kevin

    So you who agree with the euthanizing feel humans MUST CONTROL, TAKE OVER EVERYTHING! We domesticated what we now call dogs, so how do you nagate that?, we were wrong for doing that?!?!? Your ideas are to KIL ANYTHING THAT STANDS IN YOUR WAY OF DOMINATION AND LIE ABOUT IT AFTERWARDS TO GET AWAY WITH WHAT YOU DID! No proof to the public that this elk was “a problem before this video”! None shown so I see their lie as z cover-up!

  • Ken

    As a society we spend more time and money trying to rehab criminals that some should clearly never be forgiven, but this Elk becomes a pest to fat and lazy park rangers and the only effort to better his life is a death sentence

    Sad, no effort what so ever to find a plausible solution
    Some crap ass park range ring if you ask me! =p

  • cheryl ballard

    Humans invaded the elks territory. Sounds to me as if it was just doing what elks do with their playmates, you fucking idiots. Why has our society gone on a killing spree with nature and its animals. I hate humans.

  • Christopher Cox

    Lost its fear of humans so just KILL IT , only a human could think that ok . what a sick world we live in we will never know peace as long as the human race lives . if there is such a thing as hell we live on it .

  • Patty M

    Why is killing our ONLY solution to EVERYTHING!?!?!?!? That is all I have to say on this matter that is fit to put on this screen. Another beautiful being murdered by the human predators. Will it never stop!?!?!? I found this quote that I saved because it is so true. This seems another appropriate place to post it:

    Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.
    —Albert Schweitzer, French philosopher, physician, and musician (Nobel 1952)

  • Stephany

    What if the Elk became unruly and charged a human, say a child before that child could get to safety and then the Park would have been responsible for not having this animal put down….I don’t think they should have put the Elk down, I do think they should have relocated him. I think he smelled something in York’s bag and since people have been feeding him, he was just doing what he has always done. Not his fault.

    • Jo Phillips

      If an adult allows a child to be out of a vehicle whilst there is a wild animal around then they shouldn’t be in charge of children. It is commen sense but I think that is what is wrong with people today, they don’t use the brains they were given. The only one here who was worse off is the Elk and all because some one wanted to take some pictures and post on Youtube. Sad really sad.

    • saltgrassranch

      Realistically, any wild animal can be dangerous. If people are worried about their children being injured… why not keep them away from wild animals??? The appropriate thing to do would have been to relocate the animal, there was no need to kill him. Just saying…

  • Linda Svarvari

    How utterly disgraceful and so typical of humans – don’t deal with it responsibly… just kill it! No thought that animals have emotions, feel fear or want to live…. just typical selfish, self centered, callous, human response. We are truly a repugnant species!

  • Margie

    I am truly appalled at the parks decision! This Elk had a RIGHT as Gods creature to live. They could have relocated the Elk to some sort of sanctuary instead of killing it.y

  • Reneda

    Why is it that every time man comes into contact w/a wild animal the animal ends up dying for it!?!? Mankind is the worst scurge ever to be unleash on this planet. Just a simple fact!

  • Loretta

    That’s terrible. If he wanted to hurt that guy he would have done so. Young bucks like to play and he was playing with that guy. They should have relocated him. I think people just like killing for any reason now a days. This is pathetic.

  • Jacki Belanoff Smith

    it looked like the elk was being a bit playful- it was just a young baby looking for friendly play- rubbing its horns that are growing in feels good on their heads too. couldnt they have taken him to a zoo at least?

  • Davie Crockett

    “Park officials said the elk was a problem before approaching the photographer” …”the elk had lost its fear of humans after being fed by visitors.”

    The problem is clear. RESPECT WILDLIFE HABITATS.

  • susana

    humans think they are so superior. Although they are capable of killing a helpless animal… WE ARE MONSTERS. HUMANS ARE A DISGRACE . EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO LIVE .

  • Phyllis

    The Elk is playing…asking for food…there could have been a solution other than to euth – but what do we expect? Compassion and someone taking the time to find a zoo or refuge for him to be placed?

  • maddog@20

    if that deer wanted to hurt james it would of done so, the part i don’t understand why did the people not move in sooner he was able to walk away & the deer did’ent come after him,
    There seems to be more to that story than that vidio is showing

  • Deedra

    This is so sad, they did not have to kill this animal. How many sanctuary’s or zoo’s would have taken this animal in? Did the park officials even look into this option? Head butting is a form of play for animals. Horses, cows and goats do it. If the elk had wanted to hurt York it would have gored him instead of repeatedly positioning his horns out of the way before butting him. Truth is any animal large or small can hurt a human that doesn’t call for them to be put down.

  • Nirmal Ghosh

    ”Euthanized” ?? Euthanasia means putting some person or other living thing down to relieve pain and suffering. Was this elk in pain and suffering? It was just dysfunctional because of what people had done to it. Sad that animals are always expendable even when people caused the problem in the first place. Yes this elk’s behaviour was dangerous, but then why not put it in a safari park or relocate it to some deep wilderness really far away from people? Why kill it?

  • Brenda

    Dead now due to humans feeding him, and he probably only wanted food from photographer:-( They should have tried relocating him instead of Death! Shame on the person who made that choice!

    • Dave

      From National Park Service release
      Why didn’t we relocate the elk or give the elk to a zoo?

      The park considered relocating the elk to another public land area in North Carolina, but this was not a viable option due to the animal’s demonstrated potential to cause harm to people. If the animal had approached a child instead of an adult, the outcome for the visitor could have been very different.

      The park could not release the animal to a facility that houses a captive certified herd because animals introduced into these facilities are required to have verification that they have been free of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) for the past five years. In addition, interstate transport of elk or deer is prohibited because of risk of spreading diseases such as CWD into local populations

  • John Lemandri

    Perhaps instead of the elk being relocated or in this case, put down, we should relocate those humans who continually feed wild animals. And if they return to feed the animals again and again, we will eventually have to put the humans down.

  • John Lemandri

    Another sad instance where park officials acted in haste and did not consider all the options for relocation. We need to reeducate these park officials. Dumbest thing I’ve seen in a long time. If the animal really wanted to hurt the photographer, it could easily have done so but chose instead to play. The photographer should have attempted to break contact rather than allow the elk to repeatedly nudge him. That photographer is an idiot, no two ways about it.

  • Vanessa

    The people involved in killing this innocent creature are the ones who are dangerous. They’re the ones who need to be “euthanized.”

  • Sue

    This is SO SAD! I thought the elk was so cute. He was young and wanted to play. I was amazed at him being so close to a human without being afraid or wanting to attack. There was NO GOOD REASON to kill this absolutely beautiful elk. So if he runs he is called wild and dangerous. If he is friendly and playful he is killed. That is very sorry on the part of the humans that killed him!!! RIP little elk! Humans are stupid to think like this. He posed no problem for them. The woods was HIS territory and yet he chose to accept them. This is a disgrace!

  • rajni shetty

    The Photographer should have walked away…..an animal is killed because of his stupidity…..his head butts were not intended to harm , so why put it to sleep?…………isnt the photographer responsible for his death.?….and he had no business to go near him…..what a shame!!!!!…Please leave the animals alone, if your hobby is going to be their death penalty!!!!!….they deserve to live peacefully where nature has ordained….

  • Donnie Rose

    Is this the best news that channel 9 can come up with??? How about impeachment news??? How about some REAL Journalism… Or is that asking too much??? LAME STREAM MEDIA

  • Kristina

    So should the guy be put down too? I mean I was raised that we should have a fear of some animals and some animals should have fear of us. Why do humans try to interact where they should not? So are so pompous that we believe all animals and creatures should fear us? The man forgot his place all so that he could get a few photos. The article said “the elk had lost its fear of humans after being fed by visitors.” So is this not an issue that the park should have dealt with previously? I see the signs at the zoo that say do not feed the animals and guess what?!! I don’t feed the animals. I have not forgotten my place. We have taken over the animals natural habitat and then blame them when they want to know whats in the area? Wouldn’t you want to know the creatures that are that are now inhabiting your home? We interfere too much. We think we are invincible. We feel we should be feared by all creation. This is ridiculous!!!

  • Dave

    This release is from the National Park Service’s website regarding this incident and another elk on the other side of the park. http://www.nps.gov/grsm/parknews/elk-response.htm.
    In it, it states “Keep your distance from elk. Do not approach within 50 yards (150 feet) of an elk. If an elk approaches you, it is your responsibility to back away slowly to provide space for the animal to pass.” This is nothing new, it has always been every park’s rule which has big game – not just elk. Viewing the posted video York clearly did not do this. Just because you are in a national park and the animals have more contact with people does not mean the animals are tame.

  • james

    Some of the comments in this are so ridiculous. Nobody couldve spoke more truth than ranger. If you want to really know read back in the comments and use your head. Quit blaming York. Quit blaming the people that feed the animals. They did nothing wrong. A small animal that has no fear of humans can easily injure a person just like a large one. Its not the animals thats the problem its us. And our belief that we are superior over nature. We are part of nature just like the elk. And instead of living in harmony we live in chaos. Because we desire control over everything. Wake up people

  • saltgrassranchq

    Injustice at its finest! All wild animals are a danger to humans… that’s just how nature works. Try approaching a buck during rutting season and see what happens… a bear, a cougar, a wolf, etc. They are wild animals!!! It was idiotic to euthanize this animal when he could have been moved/relocated.

  • Sue

    If the elk had intended bodily harm he could have did that easily when he first approached the photographer. He knew his horns could have badly injured the man so he carefully avoided doing that so no harm would be done. He meant no harm but yet he was killed in the end. I thought at first the video was so cute on the elk’s part. Now I am deeply saddened by the end result. Animals make me laugh with their playfulness. Humans make me mad with their CRUELNESS!

  • Diane Campbell

    Euthanized? Try Murdered. Bunch of scum bags! The typical human fucking trash. I HATE THE HUMAN RACE! I wonder who told humans that they are superior to animals and that they have the right to make this fucking choice? I hope they all die a rotten death. Them and everything that comes from them. Their shit kids included. This is absolutely proof that humans have sunken to an all time low.

  • Carolyn

    It’s takes a sorry excuse of a human to kill an animal for approaching a human that was in his domain.So I guess there will be no animals left if its left up to certain animals haters in Tennessee.

  • carol

    How sad, poor animal, Humanity, when and where in this case, you are not human if your desire is to kill an innocent animal, why not just get up and walk away

  • iBoy

    So how about we do something about it? Instead of just sitting in a chair somewhere, ranting on online threads about the inhumanity of the world, let’s actually try to change something. I hate it when people go on for paragraphs about how terrible they think something is, but show no initiative to do anything that requires them to actually participate. Come on already, let’s wake up.

    • Sue

      Absolutely! That is better than they did to the young elk that they did not try to relocate or help. They made a quick and easy decision for themselves to take his life! The elk could have did that to York or anyone else he got close to but he did not! The young elk was a LOT more humane.

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